Managing food cravings when menstruating

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Managing food cravings when menstruating

Many women can usually tell when their period is almost here or has already arrived – their body begins to crave more unhealthy foods making it difficult to control. Suddenly, you may find yourself finishing half a bag of chips and now you are looking for the bag of fun size chocolate bars. Strong food cravings are not unusual during the time of the month.  Most women would agree there is a compulsive drive to eat certain foods right before and even during the days of menstruating.  So, what’s behind this obsessive urge seeking out chocolate and junk foods during this time?

What appears to be the main driver of this compulsion starts with the brain.  A woman’s brain is craving certain foods that have the ability to calm anxiety or soothe depression, both of which can accompany the menstrual cycle.

A stressed-out brain unfortunately, will not be craving carrots and celery sticks.  Even though they are very healthy, low calories choices, these veggies simply won’t give the brain what it wants.  But before considering having a brain transplant, know that women are hard-wired to crave foods high in sugar and fat or what are called highly-palatable foods.  Your brain gets an immediate reward, sort of what happens with drug addiction, when you sink your teeth into a glazed donut or a warm, chocolate brownie.  It results in you feeling more sedated and with a noticeable mood-elevation due to the effect of chemicals and receptors within the brain.

Initially, you feel better.  However, the long-term effects of a regular pattern of reaching for those stress-reducing and mood-elevating foods can backfire by making you more sensitive to stress.  This increased sensitivity to stress causes even more “stress eating.”   This means you get caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling stressed, you eat, feel more stress, you eat more, and before you know it, over time you have gained a significant amount of weight.  The added burden of obesity can ultimately lead to more depression and anxiety.

How to manage mood changes when menstruating

Mood affects our food choices but the opposite also is true – food choices affect your mood. Here are some strategies to try helping your brain to have a better response to stress during your period:

·      Keep a food diary a couple of days before and then during your cycle.  Track everything you eat, especially if you binge.  By taking a good look at your overall eating habits, you can see in black and white, what foods you are craving and from there, make the decision to choose healthier options.

·      Eliminate the highly palatable, high sugar, high fat, processed foods from your home.  By not buying them and having them stocked in your kitchen, you are less likely to be tempted to eat them.  Instead, have plenty of naturally sweet fruits, healthy vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds to fill you up.  You will feel much better physically and mentally when you are feeding your body what it really needs.

·      When the urge to binge on highly-palatable foods hits, first drink a glass of water infused with fresh fruit or mint to curb cravings.  If that doesn’t help, get up and move.  Exercise such as taking a walk, getting outdoors or cleaning house can take your mind off the craving until it subsides.  Chewing gum is another distractor to try.

·      Stress and emotional eating go hand in hand.  Practice stress reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga, stretching, reading a book, and maintaining a positive attitude to get through difficult times.

·      Add some spice to your life by using common spices that may benefit your brain to manage the mood symptoms associated with your menstrual cycle.  The spice turmeric has a substance called curcumin which helps to regulate two important chemicals in the brain responsible for mood – serotonin and dopamine.  Saffron is another spice with mood-boosting power.  Research suggests that saffron regulates certain chemicals in the brain responsible for maintaining your mood, especially serotonin.  Saffron may also have an antidepressant effect in women with mild to moderate depression.